Animals entertain civic club

Photo by Ricki Barker

Photo by Ricki Barker

ALBANY, Ga. -- The members of a civic club dedicated to stopping child abuse took the arrival of a gator, snake and a ferret in stride at the club's Friday meeting.

Two Chehaw Park officials brought the critters to the meeting to show Exchange Club of Albany members the way they teach children about animals in the wild.

The Exchange Club fosters education as well as supporting shelters for the abused and sponsoring other activities that combat child abuse.

"We've had children come to our education presentations from 3 years old to high school students," said Lara Garner, an education specialist at the wild animal park. "The kids love the programs because they get to touch the animals."

Garner offered to let anyone at the meeting touch Mucky the 2-foot-long gator she was holding while she spoke. She had no takers.

"Most of these people are Georgia bulldogs," said Pete Peters from the dais. "We don't want anything to do with gators."

Peters made reference to the longstanding sports rivalry between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the University of Florida Gators.

The park has 25 gators, the largest of which is 13 feet long. Kirkland said that feeding times for the gators are twice a day, and spectators can pay to feed the reptiles.

Next up, Garner introduced Coney the corn snake to the group. Peters didn't want any part of the snake either.

An Exchange Club member shouted out, to laughter all around, that the real reason Peters didn't want to meet the snake is that corn snakes eat rats.

"That was a good point," said Ben Kirkland, Chehaw Nature Reserve manager. "Snakes fit into our environmental system in a way that is actually to the benefit of people.

"Snakes eat mice and rats. They don't want to bite people. Ninety percent of snakebites are because people try to catch or kill the snake."

If a person would just back away from a snake the result would be positive, Kirkland said.

"No snake wants to go across a clean cut lawn," he said. "That is where an owl or a hawk can see them and eat them."

The four types of venomous snakes are the rattlesnake, the cottonmouth, the coral snake and the copperhead, Kirkland said, noting all would rather avoid human contact rather than bite. All they require is to be left alone with their food, water and shelter.

"Snakes do you 10 times more good when you leave them alone," Kirkland said. "Just back off from them."

The last animal to be introduced was Ariel the ferret. She seemed to be more welcome than the gator or the snake, club members said.